France votes in times of war and electoral suspense

  • The first round of the presidential elections takes place in the midst of an increasingly tight duel between Macron and Le Pen, according to polls

  • The rebellious Mélenchon aspires to surprise and qualify for the second round

The war in ukraine has marked the French presidential campaign on Sunday (first round), whose second round will be held on April 24. In the midst of one of the worst war conflicts in Europe since the Second World War, France has experienced one of the electoral periods strangers remembered in recent decades. The Russian invasion could have led to fruitful debates on France’s role in the world, the role of energy and nuclear weapons, or measures to counteract inflation and the energy crisis. But many of these crucial questions were discussed superficially. The main interest has fallen on the electoral suspense, accentuated by the roller coaster of the polls.

“There is a suspense much higher than it seemed a couple of weeks ago & rdquor ;, political scientist Jean Petaux assures El Periódico. According to the latest opinion polls, which should be taken with a grain of salt since they tend to fail, President Emmanuel Macron would be first with 27-25% of the vote, but closely followed by Marine Le Pen (25-20%) and the third it would be Jean-Luc Mélenchon (18-16%).

Both the far-right candidate and the one from the rebellious left experienced a dazzling rise in the polls in the last two weeks. In the end, will the candidate for the National Regrouping overcome the centrist leader? It’s possible. But it cannot be ruled out that the polls have inflated Le Pen excessivelyas has happened repeatedly in the last five years, and there is an unexpected surprise on the part of Mélenchon (ecosocialist).

After such a strange campaign – there was no television debate before the first round – one should be wary of categorical predictions. After months of apathy, marked by covid-19 and war, the French seem to be interested in the elections at the last moment. The most recent polls forecast high abstention — close to the record low turnout of 71% in 2002 — but lower than anticipated a week ago. Suspense also predominates in this sense.

Macron’s waning campaign

In fact, centuries seem to have passed since those first weeks of March when Macron exceeded 30%. The Russian offensive against Ukraine led to a effect of “national unity & rdquor; for the benefit of the centrist leader. So, he dedicated himself to campaigning on Twitter, boasting of a look to the purest Volodymyr Zelensky, as if France were also at war, and regularly communicating about his parallel telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. These diplomatic efforts not only did not provide, for the moment, any results, but also the “flag effect & rdquor; in favor of the French president seems to have vanished. And that explains, in part, his fall in the polls.

Another turning point in Macron’s waning campaign was the presentation of his electoral program on March 17. With the announcement of measures anchored on the right, such as establishing a minimum retirement age at 65 years, conditioning the granting of a minimum income to the fact of studying or working for 15 or 20 hours or by rejecting a general increase in teachers’ salaries, made an obvious nod to the voters of The Republicans (partners of the PP in France), whose candidate Valérie Pécresse has been relegated to 10-8%. But it generated discomfort in the left-wing electorate, which he will need to beat Le Pen in the event of a hypothetical repetition of the same duel in 2017.

The RN leader “has a liar social programbecause it does not finance it & rdquor ;, criticized Macron on Friday in an interview in Le Parisian. After refusing to participate in any television debate before the first round -no outgoing president had done so before, although this decision generated greater suspicion in the era of social networks and television shows-, the centrist candidate multiplied in recent days his media interventions, before the advance of his ultra rival.

His campaign has also been hampered by the “McKinsey case” on the excessive spending of the executive, according to a Senate report, aimed at consultancies, added to the fact that McKinsey had not paid taxes in France since 2010. The national financial prosecutor’s office announced on Wednesday the opening of an investigation for “laundering aggravated by fiscal fraud” against this US multinational, which has some managers with close ties to Macron.

Also bad news for the centrist leader was the decision this week by the family of murdered professor Samuel Paty to denounce the Ministries of the Interior and Education. He accuses them of not having supported him in the face of threats prior to his beheading.

“Zemmour’s emergence has helped Le Pen”

All these obstacles that the president has faced have contributed to the RN candidate dangerously cutting the distance. To the point that some polls of a hypothetical second round between the two predict a victory for the centrist leader with just 51%. When Macron woke up, Le Pen was there.

The ultra candidate has promoted her electoral career based on the Cervantes principle of making a virtue of difficulties. Leading a party with a very delicate financial situation —investigated, and also convicted, for numerous cases of corruption— and with a little mobilized militant base, Le Pen has carried out a discreet campaign in the media. Basically, he has dedicated himself to visiting markets of small and medium-sized towns or farms.

The war in Ukraine could have sunk her, due to her affinity with Putin and the fact that she received two loans from Russian banks. However, the war has ended up being practically an advantage for her, having accentuated inflation and the crisis in energy prices. The RN has centered its campaign around the problem of purchasing powermain concern of the French.

“The irruption of the polemicist Éric Zemmour has helped her a lot to improve your image” and to stop being scary, points out the political scientist Christèle Lagier, an expert on the electorate of the extreme right. However, according to this professor at the University of Avignon, this trivialization of her image “has made her a politician like the rest and this can arouse mistrust in some of her most anti-system voters & rdquor ;. “I do not rule out that it ends up obtaining a result similar to that of 2017 (21%) or even lower & rdquor ;, she affirms.

The left turns to Mélenchon

The rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchon is confident that the threshold to qualify for the second round is not as high as the latest polls suggest. The leader of the Unsubmissive France (partners of Podemos in France) has become the third man in these presidential elections, after having staged a comeback similar to that of 2017, when he was fourth, with more than 19% of the votes. The latest polls already predict 18%. Although at the beginning of March he was at 10%, he has been climbing thanks above all to a useful voting effect on the left. The former socialist candidate Segolene Royal or Christiane Taubira, former Minister of Justice of François Hollande, have already asked for the vote for the veteran eco-socialist leader.

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One of the hopes of the rebels is that the electorate that seems most indecisive is that of the rest of the progressive formations, from the anti-capitalist left to the socialists, including the greens. “We can carry out the greatest political bifurcation that we can imagine! Mélenchon cried out last Tuesday at his last rally in Lille, broadcast in 11 other cities through holograms.

“I find it quite unlikely that Mélenchon will qualify for the second round, since his ascending curve is similar to that of Le Pen& rdquor ;, maintains the political scientist Jean Petaux. If he managed to qualify, “it would be more in a second round between the rebel and the ultra candidate, while Macron would be third & rdquor ;, points out this political scientist, proposing an unlikely scenario. But if it did occur, it would be quite an earthquake.

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